Receiving the Bodhisattva Precepts

I have considered myself a Buddhist for the past thirty years, but the past two years have taken me into a deeper understanding of Buddhist thought and practice about life. I became acquainted with Master Sheng Yen three years ago when visiting Dharma Drum Mountain Monastery in Taiwan for a day tour.

By coincidence, it was the fortieth anniversary celebration of Chan Buddhism in Taiwan and there were monks and nuns from all over the world chanting, meditating and practicing Buddhist arts. I felt this was an auspicious introduction to Chan Buddhism and began readings related to Chan Buddhism. Master Sheng Yen’s autobiography Footprints in the Snow affected me deeply, and I have found that all his writings made sense to me in a way no other Buddhist writings had previously.

I have practiced tai chi and Taoist arts for seventeen years, and two years ago began chanting Buddhist and Taoist chants daily. This practice seems to have opened my consciousness to Guan Yin and her compassion for others. During these chants, I began to understand that through the help of Bodhisattva spirits and good practices of my own, I might have some ability to help heal the suffering of my family members. My grandfather committed suicide and my father had several nervous breakdowns. Depression has affected multiple generations in our family, and my biggest concern has been for the younger generation who are young adults now and having their own families. I have been searching for ways to help heal my family. My desire to help sentient beings has sprung from this goal, as I increasingly realize that all sentient beings are my family and we can hardly restrict our compassion to only our biological family.

Living in Taiwan for three months in the fall of 2009, I was able to attend Saturday morning practices and several day retreats at the Dharma Drum centers in Taipei. A commitment to the Chan Buddhist way developed. Imagine my delight when I learned that Dr. Jimmy Yu (Guogu) was teaching at Florida State University, and teaching Chan Buddhist practices in Tallahassee. He has been an inspiring and insightful teacher, and our Tallahassee group of practitioners have been a real support to me in the past six months.

The opportunity to take the Bodhisattva Precepts seemed like a continuation of the path I have begun and I am committed to walk along. But I am lazy and still very ignorant, so any efforts I can take to learn and motivate myself are good efforts. The experience of the four day retreat was intense and clarifying. There was a beauty contained in each of the routines we learned and followed, whether from how to properly put on the black robe, to doing prostrations, to serving and eating our food in silence. Rituals have power to open our mind and consciousness, and simplify our life. They help us experience stillness. Being in the beautiful Chan practice hall with the natural wood floors, walls and ceilings (and even a magnificent wood Buddha) heightened all my senses and I experienced a calm peaceful state. Chanting with all my fellow practitioners in the harmonic tones of the Buddhist chants brought an experience of connectedness to everyone there and all sentient beings. We are each part of the energy of the universe, and the retreat highlighted that connection.

When we conducted the service of giving the Bodhisattva precepts to the Spirit Realm, the night before we took the Bodhisattva Precepts ourselves, I was deeply moved. I felt that several of my family members who died difficult deaths were reaching out to tell me they were finding peace. I focused my intention on all the spirits of the world who were not at peace to find peace, to allow the compassion and good karma of all of us there, as well as the Buddhist spirits who had joined us, to help heal their suffering and be whole.

To conclude, I felt that learning about and then taking the Bodhisattva Precepts with a group of us—all emerging bodhisattvas—just strengthened my understanding and commitment about how to work on behalf of all sentient beings through my personal actions. I was so grateful for my teachers and my fellow practitioners to learn some of the insight that Dharma teachings provide. It is very simple, very complex and very powerful.

(By Fran Berry.July 19, 2010)

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